How Malaysia has learned nothing from Japan

JUNE 12 — Look to the East, our former and current prime minister said. We look but Malaysians have yet to listen.

It still upsets me that Malaysia is still on a pathway to building yet another car when Proton cannot truly be called a success.

We can go to the US or the UK and see people driving Hondas, Hyundais and Kias. But to spot a Proton in a first world country is nigh impossible besides that one time Jeremy Clarkson roasted a Malaysian car.

It is troubling how much our prime minister overestimates the capacity and spending power of our domestic market. We cannot sustain yet another national car, whatever he says.

Our decades of building (more like assembling) cars has not created a skilled, in-demand automative sector workforce.

We are not seen as innovators. To try and compare the Malaysian market and populace with the homogeneous ones in Japan and Korea is unrealistic.

Both countries have superior education systems, more mature economies and different cultural norms.

If the only thing we take from Japan is their building their own cars, it is really quite pointless. We have not, for instance, adopted the Japanese sense of honour and accountability.

In Malaysia, senior executives or statesmen do not resign when a grievous error is made. All you will get is a half-hearted apology and a poorly written press statement and maybe a poor underling or two getting fired.

When you hear “Made in Japan” you think quality or uniqueness. You hear “Made in Malaysia” and you wonder if it isn’t really “Made in China” but outsourced from Malaysia.

We cannot truly be great until we remove the things that prevent us from getting there — our preoccupation with tribalism, pork barrel politics, the national tidak apa (it doesn’t matter) culture and the general slipshod nature that is associated with the Malaysian way of doing things.

The tidak apa attitude can clearly be seen in the current Malaysian Airlines — oh how far it has fallen. Boarding is a mess with no proper boarding queues, there are no proper procedures to deal with cancelled flights and the MAS service counter is a nightmare from the 80s, poorly staffed and run.

When I missed a connecting flight transiting from Japan because of a plane fault, ANA staff was waiting for me when I landed, with both a new ticket and a free coach pass to get to the next airport where my new flight had been booked.

Contrast that to when the KLIA Express broke down a few weeks ago — instead of issuing me a direct refund, staff told me to get to KLIA on my own then “fill in a feedback form” there.

I had to witness a Vietnamese tourist close to tears at the KLIA Express counter as she had very little money left after paying for a ticket, and couldn’t even get a refund.

Don’t talk to me about cars when Malaysians have yet to understand the virtues of punctuality and efficient customer service.

It isn’t just Japan we can learn from — China is industrious, with the most sophisticated manufacturing supply chain in the world, Korea has made marketing its culture an art and Thailand’s economy has proven resilient even in times of political turmoil.

I love my country but sometimes it’s difficult to be proud of it; when we have politicians with limited imagination, tunnel vision and a knack for infighting and a populace forever keening over racial issues.

We can be better, we can do better. It’s time we start on that and not keep listening to the people who will make sure we go nowhere but backwards.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.